To Solve the Retention Crisis, Proactive Mental Well-Being Needs to Be a Workplace Priority

The pandemic has led to employee retention struggles that require a serious reconsideration of how employers address mental well-being. McKinsey calls it “the Great Attrition.” 

More than 15 million U.S. workers have quit their jobs since April 2021, and 40% of employees say they are at least somewhat likely to quit in the next 3 to 6 months. Why? Burnout is one major factor. A largest-of-its-kind study released recently by leadership consulting firm DDI surveyed more than 15,000 employees and 2,000 HR professionals across 24 industries. The study found that nearly 60% of leaders reported feeling used up at the end of the workday. 

Burnout has long been a concern for employers, and “leaders who are feeling burnout are now nearly four times more likely to leave their positions within the next year,” according to DDI. The length of the pandemic and the sustained effort required to keep companies afloat through uncertain times (and virtually) have increased exhaustion and stress. Meanwhile, the lines of work/life balance have blurred, families are facing increased financial anxiety, and the pandemic has put a strain on marriages and parents. 

Employers agree that workers need support. But the question is: What does the ideal support system look like? 

What Does Support Look Like?

In today’s mental well-being landscape, support typically starts with professional care. This is a reactive solution to the problem because it means people have to feel like something is “wrong” with them before they seek care. This model is also problematic because professional care is not always available; in America, a person needing mental health support currently has to wait an average of 19 days to be seen—and “that’s if one of the 12% of therapists accepting new patients are in the person’s network,” according to Benefit News. Stigma and fear of repercussions also play a role; 40% of first responders, for example, say they don’t seek help from workplace services because they are afraid of getting fired. 

Employers can be the leaders in making proactive mental health care accessible to Americans. People don’t usually go to a counselor for a mental health “checkup” the way they go to an annual physical. But what if it were easy to give our minds a tuneup the same way we tune up our cars and our bodies? 

Implementing meditation spaces and courses in the workplace is one solution. Sixty percent of employees experiencing anxiety in the workplace show marked improvement upon practicing meditation. Many workplaces are already introducing corporate mindfulness classes to their benefits, with stunning results. Because stress has also been associated with poor eating behaviors and diet quality (both causing it and being caused by it), nutrition and exercise are key. It’s not reasonable to expect an employee working a 9-hour workday to have time to go to the gym after work, make a healthy dinner from scratch, and also spend time with his or her family without feeling burned out. If workplaces offered healthy meal options at work, and even nutrition courses, it could make a world of difference; it’s also important to create a culture that encourages physical activity during work.   

Besides just addressing the mind and body, proactive well-being also has to address the heart. The ideal care spectrum in a workplace would involve a variety of services and events that encourage human connection (and not on a screen). In my job, I see every day that the basic human need to share and be heard is enough to be life-changing. But real human connection is at the lowest point in history. Many family members live in different states or countries, and more than 60% of Americans say they are lonely. Americans spend more than 2 hours a day on social media, but “social” media has been proven to increase loneliness.  

This increase in loneliness has impacted people’s personal and professional lives and made workers more susceptible to burnout. This is especially true for non-White employees, who are “more likely than their White counterparts to say they had left because they didn’t feel they belonged at their companies,” according to McKinsey.

The Bottom Line

Workplaces can address the fundamental need for connection by acknowledging the connection between loneliness and burnout; rethinking workplace environments to allow for more socialization and communal working; creating peer-to-peer mentorship programs; introducing ways for employees to volunteer together for a company-backed social cause; or using a platform like Listeners On Call that enables employees to talk to trained listeners with a shared life experience anonymously and confidentially. Also, the platform has the ability to meet employees where they are today on their own personal journey of wellness.

Burnout is a problem for retention, but it’s not the root of the problem. We have to start thinking of mental well-being in a more holistic way, starting with proactive services instead of reactive ones. 

Cole Egger is the cofounder and CEO of Listeners On Call

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